"There's nothing that makes this guy any more special than anyone else. This guy is you. This guy is me," said Portico Dans Theatre Co-Artistic Director Michael Lopez of the main character in BorN, the company's new multimedia contemporary dance production, premiering at SummerStage July 13-14.
"He's just a guy--that line was even in the original script. But you'll be invested in him from the very beginning. You'll see him lying on the ground and you'll ask, 'What happened to him?'"
BorN stands for "Being or Nothingness," which hints at the title of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's famous existentialist treatise. Precisely what happened to the man at the center of Portico's story is a question that might or might not be answered during the 75-minute show. To all appearances, he has lost everything, even his identity. His body has reached its limit -- and so has his mind. But according to Lopez, the work's principal choreographer, putting together the whole story in a coherent way isn't really the point.
"It's definitely a little schizophrenic," he explained. "The main character may be doing one thing and then the story will shoot to another thing suddenly. The entire show, except for two parts, consists solely of what this guy is seeing, feeling, experiencing. If you understand it from his point of view, you'll get it, because this is what's happening in his mind.
"To get from A to B, it's not a direct line. Sometimes you go to negative Z," Lopez laughed. He cited as influences movies like Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, Labyrinth, and Memento, which take viewers on complex, non-linear journeys in which past, present, and future sometimes intertwine and "reality" is never exactly what it appears to be.
It all started with a one-page story. "After Super Suite last summer, Jen Alden asked if we had any ideas for next year's show," Lopez recalled. "I had this one thing I wrote in the middle of the night, just getting stuff off my mind, very bare-bones and choppy. So I pitched this idea, and she said, 'That's it. That's what we're doing.' I said, 'Wait, you don't understand. You realize this is like one page of material!' But I sent it to her that night and we've been doing it ever since."
"We would actually talk about BorN as if we were shooting a movie," Lopez continued. "Then we had to go back and make movement for this whole story we'd done. I'm choreographing for different characters, but in a way they're all one character, with different traits about them. I want the movement to be a little crazy, a little off. It's a lot of moving from the core, very much based on feeling."
BorN represents a return to a sensibility found in Portico's first evening-length show, 2010's Project Alice, conceived and choreographed by Alden, the company's co-founder and co-director, who was recently named one of Oklahoma Magazine's "40 Under 40."
"Michael and I actually think a lot alike about things. We even like the same films," Alden said. "Alice was fun, but it had elements of darkness. Super Suite was definitely cheesy happiness; that was [former co-director] Valeria Cordero's concept. When Michael came on board, we both wanted to go back to where we started -- something a little darker."
Portico productions are often equal parts dance and theater. This one pushes that combination in new directions through the use of video projections by Sean Lorton, visual effects, aerial dance, and live music by Jeff Porter and The Claptet.
The directors wanted to invite the audience into a living, breathing environment rather than create a separate, artificial world with sets and costumes. The black-box Liddy Doenges Theater had just the right feel. Alden was instrumental in getting the theater specially fitted with hanging points in the ceiling to accommodate aerial rigging so that the production could be mounted there. Video will be projected directly onto the aerial silks, making them an integral part of the stage design.
"I didn't want the audience to be down there, and us to be up here," as in a proscenium theater, Lopez said. "I wanted them to feel involved in what's going on. Maybe they feel at times a little uncomfortable, not to where they wouldn't want to be sitting there, but if we happen to be up in someone's face, that's kind of what we're going for. We don't want people to be sitting there drinking their soda. We want them to be involved."
BorN features a cast of 20, including three children under 12 who are members of Portico's junior company, and two 16-year-old students of Lopez, a Tulsa dancer who teaches hip-hop at several local studios. "These are phenomenal kids," Alden said. "They're dancing up to the level of the adults for sure."
Lopez and Alden said the company has grown tremendously through the process of creating BorN, both in their strength as dancers and in their unity as a group. (They've also transformed themselves physically, particularly Lopez, who lost 47 pounds during the making of the piece. "My character wouldn't be the same if he looked well-fed at the end," he laughed.)
"This show is nothing you've ever seen in Tulsa before," Lopez said. "It's completely different from anything Portico has done or seen. It's something every one of us truly believes in. Every time you have felt lost, and things aren't working, and you're unsure, and change is happening," he continued, "this guy's experience represents everybody's life."
Portico Dans Theatre presents BorN at the Liddy Doenges Theater at the PAC July 13-14 at 8 pm. Tickets are $15 and are available at myticketoffice.com or 918-596-7111.
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